Tag Archives: financial deregulation

Rep. Amodei’s Wonderful Record: January De-Regulation Edition

Representative Mark Amodei’s (R-NV2) record in the 115th Congress is as dubious as the institution itself.  For a group touting their “accomplishments” the actual record doesn’t quite hit that level.  Post Office namings, and other minutiae are not included in this list.

Roll Call 8, January 4, 2017:  Midnight Rules Relief Act — “This bill amends the Congressional Review Act to allow Congress to consider a joint resolution to disapprove multiple regulations that federal agencies have submitted for congressional review within the last 60 legislative days of a session of Congress during the final year of a President’s term. Congress may disapprove a group of such regulations together (i.e., “en bloc”) instead of the current procedure of considering only one regulation at a time.” Representative Amodei voted in favor of this bill (238-184).   But, wait, there’s more:

“According to the CRA, resolutions of disapproval not only nullify the regulation in question; they also prohibit a federal agency from issuing any other regulation that is “substantially the same” in the future, unless specifically authorized to do so by a future act of Congress. As a result, these mass-disapproval resolutions would permanently block agencies from addressing threats to public health and safety.”  (emphasis added)

Those who believe that things like corporate accountability, safe working conditions, clean air, and clean drinking water are important wouldn’t find this very appealing.  However, that didn’t stop Rep. Mark Amodei from supporting this bill, which was essentially a solution in search of a problem.

Roll Call 23, January 5, 2017:  “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2017”  Representative Amodei voted in favor of this bill.  “(Sec. 3) The bill revises provisions relating to congressional review of agency rulemaking to require federal agencies promulgating rules to: (1) identify and repeal or amend existing rules to completely offset any annual costs of new rules to the U.S. economy.” [Cong]  This is vague to the point of ridiculousness.  There are several ways to do a cost analysis, and we can bet that the GOP has in mind only the most stringent, even if there is an obvious benefit to public health, safety, or general well being.  Frankly, there are some rules we have put in place which are expensive in terms of commercial and industrial calculations, but necessary in terms of public health and safety — we do not allow, for example, the unlimited release of arsenic into supplies of drinking water.   It’s hard to imagine this as a “major piece of legislation” without considering the potential hazards it creates for local governments and citizens who have to live with the pollution, work rules, and other regulations which place them at risk.

Roll Call 45, January 11, 2017: “(Sec. 103) This bill revises federal rulemaking procedures under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) to require a federal agency to make all preliminary and final factual determinations based on evidence and to consider: (1) the legal authority under which a rule may be proposed; (2) the specific nature and significance of the problem the agency may address with a rule; (3) whether existing rules have created or contributed to the problem the agency may address with a rule and whether such rules may be amended or rescinded; (4) any reasonable alternatives for a new rule; and (5) the potential costs and benefits associated with potential alternative rules, including impacts on low-income populations.”  Here we go again!  Yet another way to tie the hands of executive branch departments and agencies, and a GOP tenet for some time now.  Remember, the rules don’t have to be in one category (for example, environmental regulation) they can also cover such things as SEC rules and regulations, banking, and other financial regulations.   Representative Amodei, voted in favor of this bill and perhaps needs to explain if he meant this to handcuff the financial regulators who are responsible for seeing that Wall Street doesn’t replicate its performance in the run up to the Housing Crash of 2007-2008.

Roll Call 51, January 12, 2017:  SEC Regulatory Accountability Act, and yet another House attempt to slap a “cost-benefit” analysis on SEC regulations on financial market transactions.  Representative Amodei voted in favor of this bill.    There were objections to this bill at the time, and this is one of the more cogent:

“The most prominent new requirement would mandate that the SEC identify every “available alternative” to a proposed regulation or agency action and quantitatively measure the costs and benefits of each such alternative prior to taking action.  Since there are always numerous possible alternatives to any course of action, this requirement alone could force the agency to complete dozens of additional analyses before passing a rule or guidance. Placing this mandate in statute will also provide near-infinite opportunities for Wall Street lawsuits aimed at halting or reversing SEC actions, and would be a gift to litigators who work on such anti-government lawsuits. No matter how much effort the SEC devotes to justifying its actions, the question of whether the agency has identified all possible alternatives to a chosen action, and has properly measured the costs and benefits of each such alternative, will always remain open to debate.”

Speaking of a “Lawyers Full Employment Bill,” this is it.  Imagine voting in favor of allowing an infinite and interminable number of lawsuits demanding that the SEC consider ALL available options before promulgating a rule.  That didn’t stop Representative Amodei from voting in favor of it.

If you’re seeing a pattern, you’re right.  “De-regulation” has been a Republican talking point for the last 40 years.  However, while the term sounds positive when it’s generalized the devil, as they say, is in the details.  The January flood of deregulation bills in the 115th Congress wasn’t designed to tamp regulations on ordinary citizens, but on the corporations (especially in terms of environmental issues) and Wall Street players who want more “flexibility” in their transactions.

What the Republicans have yet to provide are instances of jobs lost because of environmental regulations.  Since this evidence is scarce, the next ploy is to argue that the costs outweigh the benefits.  By emphasizing the short term monetary costs the GOP minimizes the importance of long term economic or environmental costs, and the impact deregulation has on residents in our states and communities.

We can point to jobs lost after financial deregulation — Nevada was one of the poster children for financial sector deregulation impact.  Eight months later, Representative Amodei has yet to offer more than the usual highly generalized platitudes about the significance of the deregulation fervor during the first month of the 115th Congress.

We’ll be taking a look at some other “important” votes taken by our 115th Congress.  In the mean time, it’s depressing but productive to watch what this current Mis-administration is doing in regard to North Korea, Iran, women’s issues, common sense gun control legislation, and the various and sundry scams and grifts associated with the Cabinet.

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Filed under Amodei, Economy, financial regulation, Nevada politics, Politics

Deregulation isn’t the solution, it’s the problem

Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) was pleased to vote for the so-called “Choice Act,” which rolls back some of the reforms enacted in the wake of the Wall Street casino debacle and subsequent recession as the Great Wall Street Derivative Monster collapsed like an air dancer in a Nevada wind.   The theory behind this ridiculousness is that regulations restrict commerce, and a restriction of commerce diminishes wealth, therefore diminished wealth impacts investment, ergo diminished investment equates to a limit on economic growth.  Not. So. Fast.

Yes, regulations restrict “commerce,” but only some kinds of “commerce,” generally the fraudulent variety.  I am free to issue shares of stock in my corporation — however, I am not free to issue shares of stock in the Reese River Steamboat Company.  Some sharp soul offered shares of this highly dubious company during one of the mining booms, and assuredly some investors were cheated by this obviously fraudulent sale.  We have regulations to prevent this.  We have laws and related regulations to prevent insider trading, to prevent “blue sky” stocks, and to reduce the possibility investors are cheated by financial products which promise high returns with little or no risk.  Sometimes the adage, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is,” isn’t quite enough to prevent mismanagement of other people’s money.

Recently, Wells Fargo was found guilty of violating regulations and laws relating to the creation of phony accounts, the fine totaled a massive $185 million and some 5,300 individuals were fired. [NYT] The situation was all the more egregious because the bank was ripping off its own customers.  $100 million of that fine was the highest penalty the CFPB ever levied against a financial institution.  This is precisely the agency the so-called “Choice Act” wants to ham-string.

The “Choice Act” would eliminate the regulation regime which was intended to prevent the collapse of banking institutions.  Just for the record, let’s look at the list of US institutions that either disappeared or were acquired during the Great Recession: New Century, American Home Mortgage, Netbank, Bear Stearns, Countrywide Financial, Merrill Lynch, American International Group, Washington Mutual, Lehman Brothers, Wachovia, Sovereign Bank, National City Bank, CommerceBancorp, Downey Savings and Loan, IndyMac Federal Bank, HSBC Finance Corporation, Colonial Bank, Guaranty Bank, First Federal Bank of California, Ambac, MFGlobal, PMI Group, and FGIC.

If we extrapolate the “let the market sort it out” argument to its conclusion — it’s acceptable to allow banking institutions to over-extend themselves to such an extent that they will ultimately collapse; that’s just the market “at work.”  Fine, if the impact of such deregulation solely impinges on the banking institutions themselves, but that’s not what happens in the real world.  In the real world such supposedly safe havens (money market accounts) were in peril:

“A little over a year ago the collapse of Lehman Brothers sparked heavy redemptions from the dozen or so money market funds that held Lehman debt securities. The hit was particularly hard at The Reserve Fund, a money market fund that had a $785 million position in Lehman commercial paper. Soon The Reserve saw a run on its Primary Fund, spreading to other Reserve funds. Reserve tried to furiously sell its portfolio securities to satisfy redemptions, but this only depressed their values.

Despite its best efforts, The Reserve Primary Fund couldn’t find enough buyers and on Sept. 16 the unthinkable happened. The Primary Fund “broke the buck,” meaning that the net asset value of the fund, $1, fell to $0.97 a share. It was only the second time a money market fund, which are commonly thought of as guaranteed, broke the buck in 30 years.”

Meanwhile in Nevada, unemployment soared to 14+%, the state endured being listed among the states with the highest levels of foreclosures, and it took until 2016 for the state to recover almost all the wealth and jobs lost in the aftermath of the deregulated Wall Street casino debacle. [LVRJ]

Deregulation may sound fine when discussed in theoretical, ethereal, terms, it obviously didn’t work in the real world in which Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, WaMu, and IndyMac collapsed, and where the Reserve Primary Fund “broke the buck.”

The questions someone should ask of Representative Amodei, and other “deregulators,” are:

(1) Do you favor a return to the regulatory environment in which investment banks were allowed to over-extend and engage in risk taking far beyond their capacity to remain solvent?

(2) Do you favor a regulatory environment in which those being regulated are allowed permission to “self regulate,” without oversight from governmental agencies and institutions?

The second question is particularly important because it addresses the question of trust in commercial relationships.

The most basic of all commercial relationships is the simple act of buying and selling.  I have something to sell, and there is a potential customer for my goods or services.  This is another point at which deregulation can easily become part of the problem.  If I am selling food, there are self-evident reasons for regulating the conditions under which that food is prepared and served to the general public.  Deregulation invites disasters of the public health variety.  We trust that the food offered for sale by restaurants and groceries is safe for consumption.

If I am selling financial products does the buyer (consumer) have the expectation that my product is what it purports to be?  That it is backed by sufficient funds for ‘redemption?’ That it conforms to the standards of acceptable practices?  And, if it doesn’t, are there avenues of redress such that the consumer can be compensated?  In short, can the customer be assured that he or she can trust the product?

If I am selling a manufactured product, can the consumer trust that the item was produced in a safe way, that the product will perform as advertised, that the product will not create a hazard in my home or office?  There are voices on the fringe of Free Market thought calling  for the abolition or at least the restriction of the Consumer Product Safety Commivoicssion, who would love to see the return of Caveat Emptor, but most reasonable people agree that regulations pertaining to product safety are conducive to commerce, NOT restrictive.  A vehicle which meets or exceeds safety standards is more likely to be my choice than a vehicle which does not.  A vehicle which meets or exceeds fuel consumption standards is more like to be my choice than one which does not.  In short, regulatory standards benefit the best products (and their producers) while those who do not meet the standards have a more difficult time at the point of sale.  Now, the question becomes — do we want a regulatory environment which benefits the marginal, the inadequate, or perhaps even the corrupt producers?

Unfortunately, the deregulatory voices are answering this question in the affirmative.

Is this really the answer Representative Amodei and his cohorts want to give to constituents in the Second District? In the US?  To our customers around the world?



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Filed under Amodei, banking, Economy, financial regulation, Foreclosures, Nevada economy, Nevada politics, Politics

Anti-Choice: The Rebirth of Deregulation

I don’t think anyone in the state of Nevada doesn’t know what happened the last time Wall Street was left unfettered.  The Bubble splattered all over the state.   The offcast included 167,000 empty houses. [USAToday]  Nevada’s unemployment rate soared to 12.8% by December, 2009.  By October 2010 the state’s unemployment rate was 14.4%.  And now the House of Representatives is on track to vote on H.R. 10, the “Choice Act” to dismantle the financial regulatory reforms enacted in the wake of the Housing Debacle and deregulated banking disaster.

Two procedural votes are on record to move this bill forward — House vote 290, and House vote 291 — and Representative Mark Amodei voted in favor of bringing this bill to a vote by the full House.   Watch this space for an update on the vote for passage.

Update:  On House vote #299, Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) voted along with 232 other Republicans to essentially gut the financial reform regulations enacted in the wake of the Housing Bubble debacle. (HR 10)

Representatives Kihuen, Rosen, and Titus voted against this deregulation bill.

Comment: Be aware of Republican representatives to frame this vote as one against Bank Bailouts and “Too Big to Fail.”   In a polite world we’d call this something euphemistic like “south bound product of a north bound bull.”  The Dodd Frank Act requires banks to have a plan for unwinding failing banks, and bankers have screamed to the heavens about provisions to allow outside oversight of banking management.  More simply, if you approve of the antics of Wells Fargo — then you’ll love the “Choice Act,” a bill which gives banks the “choice” to skewer its customers and investors.

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Filed under Amodei, Economy, financial regulation, Nevada economy, Nevada politics, Politics

The Not-So-Stealthy Attack on Americans

During this something less than merry Month of May the United States Senate is scheduled to take up the Regulatory Accountability Act which will make it all but impossible for our own government to protect citizens (and citizen consumers) from corporate depredation.  We have a warning:

“Among its most egregious provisions, the RAA sets an impossibly high burden of proof that agencies would have to meet before finalizing and implementing a new rule, such as a new air quality or food safety standard. The bill also requires agencies to conduct several rounds of cost-benefit analyses that give more weight to the compliance costs to industry than the benefits to Americans. Taken together, these provisions and others in the bill could lead to total gridlock in the agencies charged with protecting the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe; ensuring that products are safe before they enter the market; and reining in the worst financial market abuses.”

Interestingly enough the Big Corporate Interests don’t even bother to mention “small businesses” in their push — read shove — for this anti-consumer, anti-worker, anti-Main Street bit of legislation.

A better label would be the Unaccountability Act of 2017 — in that corporations would be protected from citizens who like drinking clean water and breathing clean air, eating healthy and uncontaminated food, driving safe cars, and being reasonably assured that Wall Street investment interests aren’t pulling a “de-regulation” extravaganza that could make the debacle of 2007-2008 seem mild by comparison.

If you enjoyed the scandals of Enron, the predatory behavior of Wells Fargo, the Great Recession brought on by Wall Street Casino operations — then you’ll love this draft to deregulate the major corporations.

On the other hand if one is appalled by the “Screw Grandma Milly” antics of the Enron crowd, if one isn’t concerned that the bank isn’t surreptitiously opening accounts (and charging fees) like Wells Fargo, or if one isn’t concerned that mortgages might be oversold, and fed into another giant bubble of derivative trading — then a phone call to the Solons of the Senate is required.

As the machinations of the Russians, the squirming of the administration, and the daily deluge of tweets from Dear Leader, suck the air out of the room, beware that major corporate interests are working through the halls of Congress.

This is the time to contact our Senators, Senator Dean Heller (who has made no secret of his affinity for deregulation) and Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto who is more likely to be amenable to the concerns of ordinary citizens.  The so-called “Regulatory Accountability” is nothing more than a not-so-stealthy attack on ordinary Americans by extraordinarily powerful corporate interests.

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Filed under conservatism, consumers, Economy, Enron, financial regulation, Heller, Nevada politics, Politics, public safety, secondary mortgage market, subprime mortgages

Senator Heller’s Pipe Dream: Fun With Deregulation

Nevada got hammered in the Housing Bubble.   Here’s what the Bubble looked like:

As the Housing Bubble collapsed so did Nevada employment. The graph looks like this:

Nevada lead the nation in home foreclosures for months on end, and it was only in January, 2012 that we were relieved to say “We’re Number Three.” [RGJ]    Why look backward?  Because in this instance the past is prologue. Lessons learned the hard way during the Savings and Loan Crisis of 1986 to 1995 were lost on bankers, builders, pundits, and politicians.

Risky Business

Does this sound familiar?  Deregulation of the Savings and Loans during the 1980’s gave the S&Ls many banking capabilities but without the regulations associated with banking.  Immediately after the deregulation of the Thrifts those that had state charters moved to federal charters because the latter were less restrictive. The states of California and Texas reduced their S&L oversight to match the federal deregulation.  The system rewarded risk. The greater the risk the greater the profits.  That is, the system was profitable until all the risky investments in real estate development started bottoming out.   The dominoes started to topple in 1985 when the Home State Savings Bank of Cincinnati, OH collapsed in March.    From 1986 to 1995 the number of Savings & Loan banks dropped from 3,234 to 1,645; and, the taxpayers were out about $124 billion dollars. [Link]

Deregulation and subsequent “innovation” in the last thirty years have given us the Savings and Loan Crisis (1986-1995), the Dot.Com Bubble from April 1997 to June 2003, [BI] the Enron Debacle and bankruptcy in December 2001, and the Mortgage Meltdown/Credit Crisis of 2008.

One would think we’d have learned something along the way, but here we have Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) touting his platform for economic growth:

“The key to turning our economy around is to remove impediments that have caused economic stagnation and the inability of businesses to create new jobs. Not continue with business as usual.”

“Dean believes that private capital, not the federal government, should be the primary source of mortgage financing for the housing market. Dean supports financial regulatory reforms that stop taxpayer-funded bailouts and address the growing liabilities of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”

And, what might those impediments be? Might they be the Sarbanes-Oxley Act requiring accounting reforms and greater transparency in the wake of the Enron Debacle?  Might they be the provisions of the Dodd Frank Act, the most recent attempt to restrain some of the excesses of Wall Street during the Housing Bubble?  It’s well known Senator Heller joins his ultra-right wing cohort Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) in proposing the repeal of the Dodd Frank Act.

Dean supports financial regulatory reforms that stop taxpayer-funded bailouts and address the growing liabilities of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”  What would those “reforms” be?  If you want to stop taxpayer funded bailouts of the banking sector, simply leave the Dodd Frank Act in place since it provides for an Orderly Liquidation Authority to wind down the next Lehman Brothers mess.   No one’s all that pleased with the mortgage twins BUT if they are put out of business, WHO picks up the action in the secondary mortgage market?  JPMorganChase? Barclays Capital?

The growing liabilities of Fannie Mae?  That might have been true in 2009 but it’s outdated information now. There’s home-made chart for that:

Data from Fannie Mae, Funding Summary and Debt Outstanding, PDF.

How about Freddie Mac? Again, Senator Heller’s talking points are behind the curve.  Here’s the portion of the presentation made by Freddie Mac to its investors in June 2012 (pdf) —

A bit of Fannie and Freddie bashing is always welcome in some financial sector circles, and usually gets some applause from stump speech audiences who don’t know any better, but trying to sell the idea that we can get out from under the risky business of deregulation, and increase economic growth by dismantling the regulatory frameworks enacted to at least prevent the financial sector from repeating its recent atrocious mistakes is a pipe dream of the first water.

Senator Heller is using the  message from the Frank Luntz GOP talking point memo on financial regulation, complete with the framing: “Public outrage about the bailout of banks and Wall Street is a simmering time bomb set to go off on Election Day,” Luntz wrote. “Frankly, the single best way to kill any legislation is to link it to the Big Bank Bailout.” (emphasis added)

Unfortunately, the facts and actual provisions don’t match the linkage.  New regulations seek to PREVENT the necessity of any more major bailouts by establishing the Orderly Liquidation Authority, but if Senator Heller can string “financial reform” + “bailout” into a single sentence, and then repeat the mis-characterization often enough,  then maybe someone who doesn’t know any better will believe him.

In short: If you liked the Savings and Loan Crisis, enjoyed the Dot.com Bubble bursting, cheered for Team Enron, and loved the Housing Bubble and Mortgage Meltdown…  Senator Heller is your kind of candidate!

Relevant Previous Posts: “Nibbling Away at Sarbanes Oxley,” DB March 26, 2012. “Deregulation Debacle,” DB June 27, 2012. “A good reason not to repeal Dodd Frank OLA,” DB October 22, 2011. “Full Tilt Boogie: GOP attempts to gut Dodd Frank,” DB November 7, 2012.

See also: “Investor Presentation, Freddie Mac” June 2012. (pdf)  Sam Stein, “Frank Luntz Pens memo to kill Financial Reform,” Huffington Post, April 3, 2010.

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Filed under banking, financial regulation, Heller, Nevada economy, Nevada politics, nevada unemployment

LIBOR suction

That sucking sound from across the Atlantic is the echo of Bob Diamond’s attempt at explaining why Barclays fiddled with the LIBOR, and what is now becoming a predictable litany of excuses from bankers as to why they are not accountable for the “culture of cynicism” which has given us Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, The Reserve Fund, and all those other dubious contributions to the history of the Great Recession of 2008.

Excuse Number One: “I didn’t know.”

Diamond: “He said he only learned the true extent of the scandal this month, and felt “physically ill” when reading incriminating emails from traders.”  [BBC]

Remember When?  Mr. Ken Lewis, CEO Bank of America was not advised of the state of Merrill Lynch’s Q4 report prior to advising the Board of BoA to accept the sales terms.  “Mr. Lewis was aware of no red flags suggesting the considered judgment of these professionals was was incorrect, based on inadequate information, or should be questioned for any reason.”  [ProPublica doc]

Rock meets hard place — either the handsomely compensated CEO is making the Big Bucks because he or she is managerial gold, capable of calm in the turbulent economic waters, willing to be accountable (after Sarbanes-Oxley) for financial policies and transactions, and a gifted hand on the rudder of the  corporate craft, OR the CEO is sadly isolated from the real news that should have made it through the corporate grapevine but was lost along the way among the multitudes?  So, which is it?  One can’t have the Buck Stopping Here only in good times.  However, it seems when the rains come the Buck is magically transformed into an eukaryotic cell replicating so quickly that there are enough bucks to scatter upon almost every desk in the firm.

There’s another problem with Mr. Diamond’s response. If he didn’t know “it,” then he didn’t “know it” for a very long time.  Consider this article from Bloomberg News May 29, 2008:

“Banks routinely misstated borrowing costs to the British Bankers’ Association to avoid the perception they faced difficulty raising funds as credit markets seized up, said Tim Bond, a strategist at Barclays Capital.

“The rates the banks were posting to the BBA became a little bit divorced from reality,” Bond, head of asset- allocation research in London, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “We had one week in September where our treasurer, who takes his responsibilities pretty seriously, said: `right, I’ve had enough of this, I’m going to quote the right rates.’ All we got for our pains was a series of media articles saying that we were having difficulty financing.”  [Bloomberg] (emphasis added)

A strategist at Barclays Capital is quoted in an international news source in 2008 about LIBOR fiddling…and Mr. Diamond didn’t find out about it until 2012?  This must qualify for the slowest corporate grapevine in the history of corporate grapevines.   It’s a wonder how they ever get a birthday celebration together?

Excuse Number Two: “It’s just a few bad apples.”

Diamond: “He said that just 14 traders were to blame and that they had tainted the reputation of the 140,000 people who work for Barclays. He repeatedly stressed his “love” for the bank and its pride in what it has done.” [Guardian]

Remember When?We had one person who was very earnest about what he had written, but 30,000 people who felt the opposite,” Blankfein said, referring to other Goldman employees, “and clients who were unbelievably supportive.” Lloyd Blankfein in response to an article about the culture at Goldman-Sachs. [HuffPo 2010]

It really doesn’t take very many apples to sour the barrel.  In this instance the unfortunate tale of Barings Bank and Nick Leeson should be recalled.  Barings was established in 1762, it had financed the Napoleonic Wars, the Erie Canal, and the Louisiana Purchase.  In 1995 it was gone, sunk beneath a £827 million really bad bet by trader Nick Leeson.   Yes, there were good people at Barings, but there was also the incredibly unlucky and evidently unsupervised Mr. Leeson.  Yes, there are good people at Barclays, but there are also the happy fingered people sending e-mails to one another like the following:

“Dude. I owe you big time!” wrote one trader to a submitter. “Come over one day after work and I’m opening a bottle of Bollinger.”  Another Barclays trader emailed a submitter: “If it’s not too late low 1m and 3m [rate] would be nice, but please feel free to say ‘no’…Coffees will be coming your way either way, just to say thank you for your help in the past few weeks”.  His friendly submitter responded: “Done…for you big boy.”  [IBT]

The Barclays correspondence is rather reminiscent of Kevin and Bob from Enron, remember Grandma Millie?

Kevin: So the rumor’s true? They’re [expletive] takin’ all the money back from you guys? All those money you guys stole from those poor grandmothers in California?

Bob: Yeah, Grandma Millie, man. But she’s the one who couldn’t figure out how to [expletive] vote on the butterfly ballot.

Kevin: Yeah, now she wants her [expletive] money back for all the power you’ve charged for [expletive] $250 a megawatt hour.  [NYT]

Steven Pearlstein described this culture in a 2010 business column:

“It’s been decades since the old investment and banking cultures gave way to a trading culture in which the driving principle behind every dollar traded or leveraged is to use whatever advantage you have to “rip the face” off some other trader, brag about it on the interoffice e-mail and take 20 percent off the top as a bonus. Raising and efficiently allocating capital for businesses and households are mere pretexts for a financial system that is now focused on reaping profits from high-frequency trading and sales of purely speculative instruments like synthetic CDOs.”

Mr. Pearlstein’s analysis could apply as easily to Barclays today as to Lehman Brothers not so long ago.   No, Wall Street and The City aren’t going to revert to the days when investment banking was a client based enterprise, not when trading is more profitable than capital allocation.  However, that doesn’t excuse unethical, dishonest, self-serving behavior even if the practices aren’t technically illegal.

Excuse Number Three: “It’s the regulator’s fault, they should have stopped us.”

Diamond: “Barclays had raised concerns with the regulators about other banks being involved, he said. “There was an issue out there and it should have been dealt with.” [Guardian]

Remember When?  The  Valukas Report came in on the Lehman Brothers debacle? (Especially in reference to Lehman’s risk controls.)

“The SEC did not know about the practice,” said Valukas in prepared testimony. “But it is difficult to understand why not. In the post-Enron world, it would be logical, if not obvious, to ask public companies to explain their off-balance sheet transactions. I saw nothing in my investigation to suggest that the SEC asked even the most fundamental questions that might have uncovered this practice.” [ProPublica]

Not that the SEC covered itself in glory, but it should be noted that the agency relied on Repo 105  reports that came from Lehman Bros. auditors.   Apologists flocked to the conclusion that if the SEC, or if the almost thoroughly captured OCC, or even the CFTC,  had ridden into the fray in 2007 all might have been set aright.  Yes, and we saw just how far that got CFTC chair Brooksley Born in 1999. [WaPo] The former CFTC chair certainly earned her “Cassandra” appellation, always to be right and never to be believed in time to prevent a catastrophe.

If Mr. Diamond is to earn his compensation on his way out of the Barclays premises in the City, then the least he could do would be to come up with some excuses and rationalizing that hasn’t already become hackneyed and common on Wall Street.


Background reading:  “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” Greg Smith, New York Times, March 14, 2012.   Bank of America Merrill Lynch Suit Lewis Motion, Pro Publica, documents. Cora Currier, “How Bank of America Execs Hid Losses…,” Pro Publica, June 4, 2012.   Ray Fisman, “The Real Reason CEO Compensation Got Out Of Hand,” Slate, May 11, 2009.   Steven Pearlstein, “Wall Street’s know it alls can’t tell right from wrong,” Washington Post, April 23, 2010. Joris Luyendijk, “Barclays emails reveal a climate of fear and fierce tribal bonding…” Guardian, June 28, 2012.   Mary Shapiro, “Preventing Another Crisis…,” Investment News, March 25, 2012.   Finch & Gotkine, “Libor banks misstated rates,” Bloomberg News, May 29, 2008.

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Filed under banking, Economy, financial regulation

Deregulation Debacles: And, Heller Wants To Repeal Dodd Frank?

** Altogether too many Nevadans were happy to sign adjustable rate mortgages based on the COFI.    COFI is the Cost of Funds Index, i.e. a monthly weighted average interest paid on checking and savings accounts offered by financial institutions in California, Arizona, and Nevada.  [QNA]   It could have been worse, the loans could have been based on LIBOR,  the London Interbank Offered Rate.   Barclays Bank (as in Premier League) has now settled with U.S. and British financial authorities for $453 million. Why? “Barclays admitted to trying to make Libor look artificially low, to avoid signaling the bank’s distress to markets during the financial crisis. The bank also manipulated borrowing rates to benefit its trading positions.” [Reuters] (emphasis added)  Before anyone gets too comfortable about the shakeout from the financial meltdown of 2008, refer to Gradman’s Top Five RMBS Cases now winding their way through the courts.

And, Senator Heller (R-NV) believes we should repeal the Dodd Frank Act which sought to reform financial sector regulation.  [GovTrack]

** Meanwhile, the SEC has filed allegations that Philip Falcone, hedge fund manager of Harbinger Funds, manipulated the market, gave preferential treatment to Goldman-Sachs, and got a company loan to pay his taxes. [Bloomberg]

And, Senator Heller (R-NV) believes we should repeal the Dodd Frank Act which sought to reform financial sector regulation.  [GovTrack]

**  Then, we have MBIA v. Countrywide, Bank of America, in the NY Supreme Court.  “MBIA has been looking for just this type of smoking gun (documentation of knowledge, reliance on fraud)  since the beginning of their case, and it appears they believe they’ve found it, in the form of internal Countrywide documents relating to its fraud hotline and internal fraud investigations.  If Countrywide knew there was widespread fraud in its loan origination processes, and covered up that information, it could certainly form the foundation for a finding that it intentionally misled MBIA into providing insurance coverage.  And Countrywide has certainly acted like MBIA is knocking on the door of a treasure trove of damaging evidence, as it has fought like crazy to avoid producing these documents.”   [IGrad]

And, Senator Heller (R-NV) believes we should repeal the Dodd Frank Act which sought to reform financial sector regulation.  [GovTrack]

** The Securities and Exchange Commission opened a preliminary  investigation into the JPMorganChase “London Whale” debacle, “An important avenue for the S.E.C. investigation, the people said, is the firm’s accounting methods relating to the trades. Investigators could take a close look at a measure known as value-at-risk. The company disclosed earlier this year that it changed the way it calculates the metric, which may have masked some of the risk surrounding this trade.” [DealBook]

And, Senator Heller (R-NV) believes we should repeal the Dodd Frank Act which sought to reform financial sector regulation.  [GovTrack]

** The SEC is also looking into possible NASDAQ improprieties in the Facebook IPO.  [CNBC] “The S.E.C. is also examining whether some exchanges give undue priority to high-frequency trading firms and big institutional investors through its order types and data disclosure.” [DealBook]

And, Senator Heller (R-NV) believes we should repeal the Dodd Frank Act which sought to reform financial sector regulation.  [GovTrack]

** On June 7, 2012 the CFTC filed charges against a Florida “Wealth Management LLC; ” The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) today announced that it filed a civil enforcement action against Jose S. Rubio (Rubio) and Rubio Wealth Management, LLC (RWM) of Surfside and Coral Gables, Fla., respectively. The CFTC complaint charges Rubio and RWM with defrauding investors in connection with operating a commodity pool to trade commodity futures and off-exchange foreign currency (forex) contracts. The CFTC complaint also charges Rubio with making false statements to pool participants, misappropriating pool funds, commingling investor funds with those of RWM, failing to register as a commodity pool operator, and failing to produce documents to the CFTC.”

And, Senator Heller (R-NV) believes we should repeal the Dodd Frank Act which sought to reform financial sector regulation.  [GovTrack]

On June 25, 2012 the SEC announced a settlement with Ayuda Equity Funding:   “According to the SEC’s complaint, Ayuda and AmeriFund reaped more than $3.2 million of illegal gains on loans to public company officers and directors who put up stock as collateral. Although some borrowers received written and oral assurances that the stock would not be sold as long as they did not default on their loan payments, Ayuda and AmeriFund sold the shares before or soon after making the loans, the SEC alleged.”

And, Senator Heller (R-NV) believes we should repeal the Dodd Frank Act which sought to reform financial sector regulation.  [GovTrack]

On June 26, 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil injunctive action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York charging Tai Nguyen, the owner of the California-based equity research firm Insight Research, with insider trading.  The charges stem from the SEC’s ongoing investigation of insider trading involving so-called “expert networks” that provide specialized information to investment firms.”

And, Senator Heller (R-NV) believes we should repeal the Dodd Frank Act which sought to reform financial sector regulation.  [GovTrack]

Enough Said?

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